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Vultures in the Ossau valleyDespite the agricultural and hunting activity in France the South West has managed to keep much of its rich heritage of flora and fauna, though its most famous mammal, the brown bear, is, alas, threatened with extinction. Saving the bear appears to be important to the French Government, but recent casualties have shown the problems when conservation comes face to face with the hunting culture.
In one case the body of a bear sparked off a hunt by the local gendarmerie akin to a murder inquiry. When the culprit was found he explained Butterfly on flowerthat he thought the animal was a wild boar, although it was noted that his father was one of the area's most celebrated bear hunters in his time. In another case the shooter explained that he was frightened by a bear.
The saddest news came in late 2004 when the last remaining local female bear was shot dead by hunters from Urdos, orphaning her cub. The hunter who shot her claimed he was defending himself as she attacked him - quite naturally as she had her cub nearby. However even the local President of the hunters association pointed out that they had been warned that Cannelle was in the area with her cub, and should not have been hunting there at all. Since then there have been demonstrations demanding that the French government repopulate the area with brown bears from Slovenia, but the Bearn sub-group is to all intents now extinct.
The grand tetras, or Capercaillie, a large game bird that used to abound in the mountains has virtually disappeared, but there is still ots to see.
Avian raptors abound, and the mountains have several important colonies of griffon vultures (seen at right soaring above the Vallée d'Ossau). The shy gennet can sometimes be seen at night.
The flowers of the Pyrénées, like their cousins in the Alps so well-known in garden centres, bloom to their own rhythm in the mountain seasons.


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Villes - Natural History

Bielle. Ancienne capitale du vallée d'Ossau
Asté Beon - La falaise aux vautours. The high cliffs above Asté Beon are protected because of the growing colony of Griffon Vultures there. Climbing is forbidden, but close-circuit cameras have been installed linked to an observatory below. Here you can watch the colony with powerful telescopes or on television screens.
Larrau. Un village en haut dans les Pyrénées dans le Pays Basque.
Bird watchers on the Col d'OrgambidexhaCol d'Orgambidexha. To the west of St Engrâce lies the Orgambidexha pass, the front line in the battle between naturalists and hunters. Every Autumn the passes and mountains of this part of the Pyrénées fill with hunters ready for the migration of the Wood Pigeon, or palombe, very much a local delicacy. Other migrants also suffer. The shooting rights are sold every three years and in 1979 two naturalists bought the rights in this pass, to stop the shooting, much to the fury of the hunters.
Since then the triennial price for this pass has increased, while that of most of the other areas has decreased. The revenue goes to improving the facilities for hunters. This year (1997) the price to be paid by the Association Orgambidexha Col Libre is expected to go up from 100,000 FF to 106,000 FF.
From mid-August the migrations begin: Black Kites and Honey Buzzards; then Black Storks, Ospreys, Hobbys and Marsh Harriers (September); then in October Red Kites, Buzzards, Sparrow Hawks and of course the Wood Pigeons as well as many other smaller birds; finally the Cranes pass in November.
The Association welcomes support, financially and at their study centre. Tel: (+33) 5 59 25 62 03
Argeles-Gazost.
Beaucens - Donjon des Aigles. High up on the Eastern side of the valley lies Beaucens, and the Donjon des Aigles. There, in an old ruined fort, a thrilling display of tame birds of prey catching their food is put on for audiences. The effect as these magnificent birds fly up the valley and low over your heads is unforgettable.
Bayonne. Grande cité, et port sur l'Adour
Jardin Botanique. Dans les remparts du centre ville: 1000 espèces ou variétées dans un décor japonisant. Petite maison d'accueil et expositions sur les arbres
Ilbarritz: La Barthe. Parcours pédestre d'identification écologique d'environ 1.5 km; Connaissance des plantes, de la nature et de la faune qui y vit.
Orx marshes, 15km from Bayonne. Best time to visit this 800Ha site is between Autumn and Spring. Although it is hunted many kinds of water-loving birds can still be seen there, including Acrocephalus warblers and Marsh Harriers, as well as herons. There is a road that divides the marshes in two: the flooded side is easier to watch as the birds can hide away in the vastness of the marshes on the other side.
Reptilarium. Visite du monde fascinant des reptiles vivants. 1h 30 pour découvrir 50 espèces de reptiles vivants (boas, pythons, lézards, tortues, crocodiles, varans, iguânes).
Urcuit: Maison de la Nature. Dans un domaine de 15 hectares, un centre aménagé pour l'observation et la connaissance de l'environnement. Visite de la ferme, observation de plantes et d'oiseaux vivant dans nos forêts. Ouvert le mercredi, weekend et vacances scholaires, Avril -Oct
Bidache. Petit village avec des ruines spectaculaires
Hawks and other raptors. A display of hawks and other raptors flying is put on in summert near the castle ruins.
Bidarray. Un village Basque sur une bonne rivière de pêche.
Reserve naturelle du Potok. la maison du pottok - exposition, projection de film. Visite guidée sur sentier pédestre en montagne au milieu des animaux en liberté pour découvrir le véritable Pottok de type originel dans son milieu naturel. Observation des vautours fauves et grands rapaces diurnes. Prévoir chaussures de marche et vêtements de pluie ou chapeaux pour la chaleur. Ouvert Juillet et Août.
Bidart. Sur la côte Basque
Eldora-Parc. Dans un cadre inattendu vivez l'Amérique du sud Ó travers l'hacienda et ses jardins, l'arène et sa plaza, la ferme et ses animaux - lamas, alpagas ... Ouvert Avril - Octobre
Hendaye. Port sur la côte Basque près de la frontière
Chingoudy Estuary. This estuary, between the Bidassoa river and the Atlantic ocean, and slightly inland, provides a refuge for many kinds of geese, duck, waders and gulls.
Hossegor. Landes holiday centre once beloved of the French arty set
Bird-watching Hossegor lake. Main interest is in winter and spring - sailboards and bathers take over in summer. Many gulls and waders in the salt-water lake. There is an embankment which juts in to the sea and provides a good vantage point for divers, razorbills, gannets shearwaters and petrels. Expert watching advice is to visit the lake at low tide and the embankment at high tide.
Etang noir nature reserve, Seignosse. One of many lakes in the Landes area, the Etang noir and its marshes were declared a nature reserve for the rich flora and batrachian (frog and toad) population. 59 Ha in area.
Jurançon. La ville qui a donné son nom au vin
St Faust - Cité des abeilles. An exhibition of bees at work in their natural habitat. They say only one visitor has ever been stung, and that was by a wasp!
Lescar. D'origine la ville Romaine Benehamum et la première capital du Béarn
Artix lake bird reserve. Some 15km to the west of Lescar is a lake created by a hydro-electric dam, fed by the Gave de Pau. Although it is difficult to get at; this area of woods, islands and mud-banks hs a surprisingsly large number of ducks and waders during th winter and migration seasons. Interest includes a colony of Night Herons and Little Egrets, and ospreys hunting in April.
Mauléon. Vieille capitale de la Soule
Moncayolle: La Forêt des Cerfs. Découverte pleine d'émotion de cerfs, biches et faons au cours d'une promenade dans leur milieu naturel: les animaux viennent manger dans la main des enfants. Ouvert Juin - Août ou sur rendezvous.
Moncayolle: A l'Orée du Bois. La rencontre des cerfs, biches et faons avec possibilité d'approcher des animaux pour leur donner Ó manger en période estivale. Ouvert les après-midis 14/7 - 20/8 ou sur rendezvous.
Moliets. Une station balnéaire typique des Landes
Courant d'Huchet and Lac de Léon. Nature reserve centred on a Landes lake and its fast flowing exit through the dunes to the sea. Interest: bottanical, otters, genets. 656 Ha in area.
Mont-de-Marsan.
Landes forest round Captieux military camp - bird-watching. Hundreds of cranes feed and roost in and around the maize fields in winter and at migration time round the camp, to the north of Mont-de-Marsan. Hide near Lencouacq.
Orthez. Ville d'un grand marché, une des vieilles capitales du Béarn
La Saligue des Oiseaux. Promenades pédagogiquedans un marais autour d'un lac
Saint Jean-de-Luz. Très important port de pêche Basque
Urrugne: Florenia. Dans une vallée cachée de 18 hectares, découvrez 7 mondes paysagers fleuris. Ouvert Pâques Ó la Toussaint, fermeture hebdomadaire les lundis sauf en juillet/août.
Saint Lary-Soulan.
Néouville nature reserve. Part of the Pyrénées National Park, the Néouville nature reserve lies between 1750 and 3092m. It is a mixed mountain habitat of forests, lakes and uplands. Mountain birds and batrachians - frogs and toads - thrive there.
Sauveterre-de-Béarn. Une ville fortifiée spectaculaire qui domine le Gave d'Oloron
Isle de Glere. A rare lichen lives on this island in the Gave d'Oloron.
Tournay.
Arboretum qui comporte plus de 170 variétes d'arbres et d'arbustes.

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